Bogged down with the analytic

I’m working on an essay on migration and it’s not working, or so Christina, my editorial mentor advises me. It doesn’t hold together for her. It’s too long sure, and there is no narrative thread holding it together.

What is my question? she asked. My question, my argument. Must I always have an argument? Must it be that everything we say is threaded through by some central argument? Or am I simply being defensive?

Okay. So what is my question, my argument, and the starting point of my exploration.

I’m bogged down with the analytic.

The wind is strong today. It drags at the trees and howls. The dog is terrified. I let him out this morning but he came back in from the backyard soon after and fled upstairs. My daughter found him later cowering in the corner of the upstairs bathroom. The storm freaked him out.

Now why can’t I pursue the difficult question? I am not a migrant. I am a second-generation migrant. There is a difference. I was born in Australia but I can feel the weight of my parents’ migration throughout my childhood in my memories. The business of living in two lands, of being in between, of feeling neither here nor there.

But Holland could only exist for me in my imagination. It was not real for me. It was my mother’s home and I spent so much of my childhood flooded with the feeling that Holland was where she wanted to be, not here with me, with us her family, not here in Australia, my home country.

It added to my own personal cultural cringe. People write about Australians in general as suffering from a type of cultural cringe, which goes back to the days of colonisation and convicts I suspect. Most locate it in our colonial past, though more recently historians have begun to consider the degree to which the dispossession of this land from its indigenous people may have left all those who have come since with the sense of migrant status, bystanders, not really belonging, not of the land, not with the land, not close to their ancestors.

Do these things matter? For me they do. How much of ourselves, our sense of ourselves is located in our physical surroundings.

Why do I never trust my own ideas and why am I always looking for someone else’s ideas to back up my own?

Someone else’s voice has more validity than my own. Even as I write down my thoughts from the top of my head without reference to textbooks and other people’s ideas except as I remember them, I am struck by a sense of uselessness. It is as if anything I might say has no validity unless I can refer back to someone specific who has written about this somewhere else. Then I can quote the reference, the author, and the page number and feel justified in my thoughts. Without the ideas of others my own ideas count for nothing.

I have written elsewhere about the need to find my voice. I have not found my voice in this essay on migration. I have not found it because as Christina suggests I borrow too heavily on Salman Akhtar’s ideas and to her his ideas seem dry. They are not dry to me but I do not use the few limited examples he uses in his paper, instead I try to weave in my own, from my own life, and this does not work.

Why in this post, post modern generation where subject position is all the rage and self reflexiveness, when it’s so important to declare your position from the outset, to let people know where you are coming from, is it still frowned upon to write from the position of an ‘I’ ?

Is it because the ‘I’ can so often feel like a migrant in someone else’s land with all the attendant anxieties and uncertainties about how to conduct oneself?

I suspect that the ‘I’ is rooted in one’s surroundings, much like a baby in her mother’s arms. The fact of my parent’s migration coloured my childhood in many ways.

My mind is scatty. I cannot find a coherent thread. I want to go back to the drawing board of my essay and try to tidy it up yet again. Still I sense if I cannot nut out my question, my basic premise, then I am doomed.

You cannot write a decent story if you do not know your premise- or so I’ve been told.

Is this true, or can we grope around in a fog and produce something worthwhile out of that fog, even without knowing our premise? I ask you.

2 thoughts on “Bogged down with the analytic”

  1. Perhaps you need to have a look at the structure to this little post. I imagine you began writing with a general idea where you were going but that was about it. You didn't arrive at a conclusion, you actually arrived at a question which itself requires further development; you're sharing this process with your readers.

    So to answer your question: Can you find an answer without knowing the question? Yes, of course. Penicillin proved to be an answer to a great many questions but it came first. Only once people had this answer did they start testing it against lots of different questions to see where it worked.

    Perhaps you need to look at your essay and attempt to articulate the question it most likely is answering.

  2. My experience has been that the most valuable things are discovered by groping around in that fog. My advice, not really knowing the purpose of your essay, is to just keep writing. You probably have just not finished it yet. If you keep writing, you'll find your way out of the fog. You'll know when it's done. Good luck.

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